Nelson Mandela, the icon of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle and a colossus of 20th century public service is no more. Mandela died at home in Johannesburg at the age of 95 after spending months fighting his illness.
In a nationwide televised address, the South Africa’s President said, "Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation, has departed…. Although we knew this day was going to come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world…."
"Nelson Mandela was a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration. He showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us if we believe, dream and work together for justice and humanity,’ Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary-General said. In his condolence message the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh told, ‘A giant among men has passed away. This is as much India's loss as South Africa's. He was a true Gandhian. His life and work will remain a source of eternal inspiration for generations to come. I join all those who are praying for his soul.’
In fact, Mandela rose from rural obscurity to challenge the might of white minority apartheid government of South Africa. Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in the village of Mvezo in Umtatu of Cape province. His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was the chief councillor to the monarch. The name of her mother was Nosekeni Fanny.
On one occasion in 1994, Mandela, whose forename was Rolihlahla, candidly admitted,” No one in my family had ever attended school. On the first day of school my teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave each of us an English name. This was the custom among Africans in those days and was undoubtedly due to the British bias of our education. That day, Miss Mdingane told me that my new name was Nelson. Why this particular name, I have no idea."
Instead of serving the monarch following his father, Mandela chose to fight against white domination. He studied at Fort Hare University, an elite black college, but left in 1940 without completing his studies and involved himself with the youth league of African National Congress (ANC) with Tambo and Sisulu.
His struggle against apartheid was untiring and completely focused. He organized mass boycotts, particularly against the laws supporting racial discrimination and oppression. The historic statement of Mandela during the course of his 1964 sabotage trial revealed his firm resolve towards his mission. "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people," Mandela said. "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Twenty three years ago when he was released on February 11, 1990 after 27 years of detention for opposing the then white-minority apartheid regime of South Africa, he wrote on that day, “As I finally walked through those gates ... I felt even at the age of 71 that my life was beginning anew. My 10,000 days of imprisonment were at last over."
Really so. Series of talks and negotiations began in 1991 between the African National Congress and the government, which finally led to South Africa's first all-race elections on April 27, 1994. As a natural outcome of the said election, Nelson Mandela was chosen as the first black President of South Africa. It was really a defining moment of the 20th century. Nevertheless, his task as president was immense and extremely challenging, nothing less than preventing a civil war.
Mandela made reconciliation the theme of his presidency. “We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity—a ‘Rainbow Nation’ at peace with itself and the world,” he declared on being sworn in.
Undoubtedly, the hallmark of Mandela's mission was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which investigated apartheid crimes on both sides and tried to heal the wounds of all.
In 1999, Mandela handed over power to younger leaders and engaged himself in another activity of human welfare - fighting South Africa's AIDS crisis. In early 2005 when Mandela lost his only surviving son to the disease, his fight against AIDS became more intense and personal.
Mandela and President FW de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He was the Second non-citizen and non-Indian recipient of India’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna in 1990.
Truly speaking, Nelson Mandela’s long walk from an apartheid prisoner to South African President to a loving father of all south Africans, black and white alike, who tried his best to remake the country based on equity and justice for all through democratic process has been matchless and hugely inspiring.
Milan K. Sinha has worked in senior positions in financial sector for three decades following three years of active writing in various newspapers and magazines. A post graduate in Chemistry from Patna University and also a graduate with Economics.